Chefs Using Functional Ingredients to Drive Menu Trends

Chefs are mixing the culinary arts with food science to create new menu items and commercial products.

The products include vegan burgers that taste like big, juicy hamburgers and caramelized meat flavors that can mimic flavors typically acquired through traditional cooking techniques. The latest developments in this merging of food science and the culinary arts—known as culinology—were presented at a symposium at IFT16: Where Science Feeds Innovation, hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists.

More commercial ingredients and food science techniques are being used in restaurant kitchens. For instance, cranberry beads, which can be a garnish on a dessert or a flavor component in a cocktail in a restaurant, wouldn't be possible without the food science—the gelling reaction of calcium chloride and alginate through a process called spherification, says John Draz, executive research chef of Ed Miniat LLC in South Holland, Illinois.

In the product development world this combination would be termed encapsulated, but on the restaurant menu it's cranberry caviar, he says.

Another example of restaurant chefs drawing inspiration from the food industry is the increasing popularity of sous vide cooking, a method in which the food is sealed in airtight plastic bags then placed in a water bath. This technique has been used by the food manufacturing industry as a cooking and preservation method since the mid-1960s, and now it's an incredibly popular restaurant cooking technique, Draz says.

Chris Warsow, corporate executive chef at Bell Flavors & Fragrances in Northbrook, Illinois, is blending food science with the culinary arts by designing flavors that replicate the caramelized taste that's created when meats are roasted in a traditional method. Those caramelized flavors can be added to packages of fish and meat that are being prepared by sous vide cooking. "We can create the flavor, and we can apply it to seasonings and sauces that go into the sous vide bag before the meat is cooked so it tastes like it was seared before it went into the bag," Warsow says.

He's also using different techniques to help food companies make meat analogs from plant-based proteins. "There are a lot of good meat analogs that eat, chew, and taste like meat protein," he says. "We have come up with flavors to make a meatless fish stick that tastes like fish, and a meat-analog patty that tastes like the real thing, but it's vegetarian."

Meat production puts a great deal of stress on the environment, he says, and this science can help relieve much of that stress.

— Source: Institute of Food Technologists